Every day when we turn on the tap to get a drink, take a shower, or wash our hands, most of us probably aren’t thinking about what is in the water besides, well, water. Some say they can smell chlorine when they run their faucet, while others contemplate the pros and cons of fluoride. The reality is the water we drink goes through an incredibly complex, scientific, chemistry-filled process to ensure our drinking water is safe and meets state and federal standards. But, what exactly are these standards?
I am not going to go into detail on laws for water quality, but I do want to point out that not all the chemicals we may want to be removed from our water actually are during the treatment process. It’s no fault of the treatment facilities, these chemicals are not regulated. PPCPs or pharmaceuticals and personal care products include many of the products we use daily for personal health or cosmetic reasons. More specifically, PPCPs include products such as prescription and over-the-counter drugs, perfume, lotions, body wash, makeup, etc.
These products all contain a list of ingredients which you can see right on the label, but many of us (including me) don’t read that label like we might a nutrition label on a food item. Also, many of the drugs we use daily do not fully metabolize or get taken up by our bodies and thus what remains, is excreted by our body. Whether you wash your hands with antibacterial soap, scrub your face with micro beads, or flush small amounts of unabsorbed medicine down the toilet, this water gets sent to a water treatment facility (unless you have your own well). Once treated, our water is either used as reclaimed water or is dumped into a local water body, which ultimately connects to the ocean.
So you may be wondering…what is the big deal with PPCPs? Is it so bad that I want to stay clean and healthy? Well no, but you may want to reconsider what you are washing with and how you dispose of your medicine. Studies are now showing that some PPCP ingredients are being found in water bodies such as lakes, ponds, and oceans as well as in drinking water supplies. More and more studies are beginning to show the potential ecological harm these chemicals can cause as they accumulate in aquatic organisms, and a multitude of studies have already been conducted to suggest the impact of certain PPCP ingredients to human health. One of many problems is that water treatment plants are not currently designed to specifically remove PPCP ingredients because they are not considered regulated contaminants. Currently, concentrations are so low that the human health risk of PPCP ingredients in water bodies and drinking water is unknown but, many are concerned that small amounts of antibiotics may lead to more and more people building a resistance to these helpful drugs. The number of PPCP ingredients found in water is growing, but more studies still need to be done to determine long-term impacts. We can wait for these studies, or be proactive about reducing these ingredients in our water resources.
So, I will leave you with this…There are thousands of personal care products out there, some might be healthier for you and the environment than others, but it is up to you to decide which ones to buy. It is a lot to consider with all of the decisions we make every single day, but you might find that it is research worth doing. For example, one additive found in certain personal care products is polyethylene (AKA plastic). You can start your search for products containing polyethylene and find out more about a variety of these chemicals and products which contain them here. And, next time you clean out your medicine cabinet, please consider participating in the county’s drop-off program to ensure they are safely disposed. You can find the nearest drop off location here.